Rape and Domestic Violence: These acts are illegal, and authorities generally enforced the law. In most cases the penalty provided by law for rape, including spousal rape, is one to 10 years in prison, although the law permits lower sentences in cases where there are exceptionally extenuating circumstances or a significant lack of evidence. Actual sentences were generally lenient, averaging three years. Judges often used questionable methods, including forcing confrontations between victims and perpetrators, to assess the credibility of victims. NGOs expressed concern about the security of the courtrooms where victims were often forced to meet with abusers. On more than one occasion, the NGO Safe Women’s House has reported perpetrators physically attacked domestic violence survivors in the courtroom during the trial and in view of the judge. The NGO emphasized the problem of very small courtrooms where victim and perpetrator sit very close to one another without police protection.
Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to UNICEF data, 42 percent of Montenegrin women experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while just 12 percent of survivors reported the violence to authorities. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. This problem was further compounded by the additional constraints on prosecutors and the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases police were quick to dismiss allegations of domestic violence, particularly for young couples, noting that the problems would be resolved over time. When their cases were tried in court and they received a judgment in their favor, survivors noted the sentences imposed on perpetrators were lenient and dominated by suspended sentences and fines. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.
Police response to domestic violence was also reported to be substandard, with officers often counseling women to “forgive” their attackers or to “not harm their (the attackers) job prospects.” Cases involving perpetrators who were also public officials remained problematic. In the case of a police officer who attacked and injured a woman in a nightclub in 2019, the Basic Prosecutor’s Office stated that in his actions there were no elements of a criminal offense, and charges were not pressed, so police filed a misdemeanor report against him. Other institutions’ responses were also problematic. According to NGOs, social centers have increasingly taken actions to keep victims and abusers together in order to preserve the family structure or pay one-time assistance for rent, rather than accommodating victims in licensed shelters and providing other needed support to them, including psychological and legal support.
On September 30, a 19-year-old woman was killed by her common-law husband, who also severely injured her father. Her husband subsequently turned himself in to police after protesters gathered in Tuzi to demonstrate support for the victim’s family and push authorities to investigate, a call echoed by the prime minister. At year’s end it remained unclear whether charges were filed over the killing. The victim had previously filed a complaint in August against her husband, from whom she had separated, for constant harassment and threats. In response, police filed a complaint against the man for threatening his wife. The Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica, however, determined that there were no elements of a criminal offense, sending the case to the Misdemeanor Court, which acquitted the suspect.
On October 21, a husband killed his wife in their family house in Petnjica and then committed suicide. According to police, their 15-year-old daughter was seriously injured in the incident. A month later, the minister of interior acknowledged failures by police officers in this case. The minister explained that the victim’s son had reported an incident of violence involving his parents to the Center for Social Work months prior to the killing, which the center forwarded to police. Despite this, police did not visit the scene of the incident, electing instead to conduct a telephone interview of the husband without interviewing the wife or her children. Based on this interview, police concluded that there was no reason to go to the scene and the situation was calm. The case was closed until the killing occurred a few months later. At year’s end the officers involved were under internal review to determine responsibility.
In July President Milo Djukanovic pardoned Tomas Boskovic, who had been sentenced in June to 30 days in prison for illegally preventing his former wife from seeing their minor children for three years. The former wife was a victim of domestic violence. The president signed the pardon according to the opinion of the head of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the minister of interior. NGOs dealing with human rights and protection from domestic violence and violence against women strongly protested the president’s decision to pardon convicted family abuser Tomas Boskovic, who, according to them, continuously abused his parental rights, disrespected the law and court decisions, and worked against the interests of his minor children by not allowing them to have contact with their mother for three years. With this decision, NGOs stated, the president encouraged illegal behavior and disrespect for court decisions to the detriment of children and discouraged all parents who struggle to contact their children in accordance with court decisions. They also stated that by this act, the government committed outrageous institutional discrimination against women and children who are victims of violence and violated legally binding international standards, primarily the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Istanbul Convention.
Domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits survivors to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When the abuser and survivor live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights. This was rarely done, and NGOs reported that, as a result of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 restrictive measures, women were spending more time with abusers. Domestic violence was a serious problem in all communities.
According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female survivors of domestic violence often complained that government-run social welfare centers did not respond adequately to their appeals for help. NGOs reported that state institutions did not provide physical protection for survivors.
The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. The NGO SOS Line Niksic, which ran the hotline, reported a steady rise in domestic violence cases since 2019, driven by both increased reporting and the economic and psychological stresses of COVID-19. From January to May, they hosted 38 possible survivors of domestic violence (both women and children) in their shelter, 55 percent higher than the same period in the previous year. The government promoted use of the NGO SOS Hotline in Niksic, and the UN Development Program (UNDP) developed the mobile application “Be safe” as tools for domestic violence survivors to call for help. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover.
According to NGOs, because of the restrictive COVID-19 measures, authorities failed to address domestic violence in a timely manner, leaving survivors with limited support. The NGO Women’s Rights Center stated that perpetrators often confiscated victims’ cell phones and not all survivors were able to use digital tools, which limited reporting. The NGO Women Safe House stated that the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exposed women who lived with violent partners to even greater control and violence. According to a Women’s Safe House focus group survey, key reasons why women decided not to report the violence were fear of the perpetrator, uncertainty over the pandemic, lack of family support, and lack of trust in state institutions. More than two-thirds of women who participated in the focus group believed that bad economic conditions, isolation, and feelings of uncertainty contributed to the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic.
In 2020 local NGOs reported a case in which police in Niksic refused to accept a complaint and call for help of a Romani survivor of domestic violence seeking safe refuge at a police station, despite being accompanied by a caseworker from the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives. The survivor, a trafficking victim who entered the country illegally in 2019 after escaping a forced marriage in Kosovo, had been forced to marry a man in Bar, then marry a man in Herceg Novi. During both marriages, the survivor faced domestic violence, including seizure of her personal documents. Upon fleeing to stay with acquaintances in Niksic, she faced an attempted rape by a family friend. While in Niksic, the survivor was advised by the Center for Roma Initiatives to file a complaint with police concerning her abuse. Because the survivor was from Kosovo, police refused to act without first receiving permission from a health inspector due to COVID-19 restrictions. The inspector required the survivor and the NGO caseworker to self-isolate for 14 days, a period later extended to 28 days. Homeless and unable to find accommodation due to the self-isolation requirement, the survivor spent the night in front of the police station with her infant, after which she returned to her abuser, as she risked facing criminal charges for violating public health measures. The Center for Roma Initiatives continued to advocate on her behalf with police, who finally allowed her to be accommodated at an NGO-run shelter in mid-April 2020. The Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Trafficking in Persons took up the survivor’s case, and in June 2020 she was transferred to the Shelter for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. Officials investigated the case as human trafficking rather than as domestic violence; the Higher Court in Podgorica prosecuted one man for trafficking in persons in connection with the case.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Child marriage continued to be a problem in Romani communities (see section 6, Children, subsection on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage). Although illegal, in many Romani communities, the practice of paying a traditional “bride price” of several hundred to several thousand euros for girls and women to be sold into or purchased from families across the border in Kosovo or Albania led to concerns about trafficking in persons. The potential to be “remarried” existed, with some girls being sent back to their families, then being resold, and the money then given to the former spouse’s family. These practices were rarely reported, and police rarely intervened, viewing the practices as “traditional.” These practices led to girls withdrawing from school at a rate much higher than boys, limiting their literacy and ability to provide for themselves and their families, essentially trapping them in these situations.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, sexual harassment, including street harassment, of women occurred often, but few women reported it. Public awareness of the problem remained low. Victims hesitated to report harassment in the workplace due to fears of employer reprisals and a lack of information about legal remedies. Stalking or predatory behavior with physical intimidation is punishable by law with a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The country continues to require sterilization to confer legal recognition of gender identity for transgender individuals. While free health care was available to citizens, health-care costs acted as a barrier for noncitizens and those lacking identification documents to access regular prenatal care. Due to poor education and living conditions, Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women seldom visited gynecologists, obstetricians, or any other doctors and had the least access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Seeking to improve knowledge of reproductive rights within the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian community, the Center for Roma Initiatives organized a series of focus groups with the intention of developing a targeted action plan on improving Romani and Balkan-Egyptian reproductive health. Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women able to access these services often reported discriminatory treatment, including verbal harassment. Women outside these communities also reported verbal harassment when accessing reproductive health services. NGOs noted that such harassment was often unreported due to inadequate victim support mechanisms. Depending on the location, there was one gynecologist per 5,000 to 8,000 women, which affected women’s access to routine health services during pregnancy and childbirth.
Although there were no legal barriers to contraception, a 2020 UNFPA report indicated the country had enacted only 37 percent of legislation and regulations necessary to provide for full and equal access to contraceptive services. According to NGOs, there was a lack of publicly available information and appropriate educational programs, and economic status and restrictions by partners were barriers preventing women from using contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but that did not include emergency contraception. NGOs stated that these services were often not tailored to those experiencing sexual violence and that persons performing examinations sometimes lacked the necessary expertise to prepare a valid forensic report. Victims also often wait up to seven days for an examination, and there is no specialized center for supporting victims of sexual violence.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted, however, that women often had trouble in defending their property rights in divorce proceedings due to the widespread public belief that property belongs to the man. Sometimes women ceded their inherited property and inheritance rights to male relatives due to tradition and pressure from their families. Men consequently tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership, sometimes limiting a woman’s options in the cases of domestic violence or divorce. Women continued to experience discrimination in salaries and access to pension benefits (see section 7.d.).
The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government has a 2017-21 strategy on gender equality. In 2020 the government published the Gender Equality Index for Montenegro, one of a series of indices that measures inequalities in EU member states and countries in the EU accession process. On a rating scale of zero to 100, the index measured labor, money, knowledge, time, power, health, and violence. The largest inequality between men and women was noted in the category of power (35.1), followed by time (52.7), knowledge (55.1), money (59.7), and work (65.2). The greatest level of equality was reported in health (86.9).
Female judges who were forced to retire two years ahead of their male peers, per existing law, brought a complaint against the Judicial Council on the ground of discrimination. Throughout the year female political figures were the target of public, misogynistic insults, and occasional death threats, both online and by public figures. For example, in April the minister of education, science, culture, and sport, Vesna Bratic, was depicted in sexist and vulgar caricature with then bishop Joanikije. Local NGOs condemned this incident, stating that the mockery and shame to which Minister Bratic was exposed because of her gender did not, nor could not, have any justification and represented a brutal misogynistic attack on Bratic as a person with the intention to hurt, insult, and humiliate her.
According to Romani rights NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 110 to 100. The government did not actively address the problem.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Some reporting by Serbia-based media outlets, popular among Montenegrin-Serb populations in the country, contributed to rising tensions between ethnic groups. Tabloid television stations, portals, and online media continued to report intensively about Montenegro and its internal political developments during the year frequently using ethnically charged, inflammatory language playing on ethnic and national differences and disinformation, particularly over local elections in Niksic on March 14 and Herceg Novi on May 9, as well as around the enthronement of the country’s Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan Joanikije on September 5.
Following the September 5 enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan in Cetinje, ethnic tensions between Montenegrins and Serbs increased. The NGO Civic Alliance stated that the event deepened the already existing divisions in Montenegrin society.
Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly because of prejudice and limited access to social services due to a lack of required documentation. The law on citizenship and its accompanying regulations make obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. Access to health-care services, including childbirth, remained challenging for members of these communities due to their lack of medical-care cards.
According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained higher than for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians lived in illegal squatter settlements that often lacked services, such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal. NGOs reported that several Romani neighborhoods did not have running water, which prevented, for example, the Vreli Ribnicki Romani community from complying with health recommendations. The NGO Young Roma stated that one of the biggest problems for the Romani community living in illegal squatter settlements was the risk of eviction, especially in the southern part of the country. According to the NGO Center for the Affirmation of Roma and Egyptian Population, the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian population, particularly children, faced discrimination during schooling, problems arising from unresolved legal status, the lack of employment opportunities, and poor housing (also see section 6, Children, subsection on Education). Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northeastern parts of the country also frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect.
On February 11, the Hadzi-Ismail Mosque in Niksic was defaced with graffiti saying “Srebrenica,” “Turks,” and “Niksic will be Srebrenica.” The Hadzi-Ismail Mosque is the only mosque for Niksic’s Muslim population of approximately 1,500. The government, NGOs, and other religious groups condemned the graffiti.
Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those groups. NGOs, legal observers, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.
The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights stated that the government continued to provide housing for marginalized groups, including Roma. During the year the government adopted a new Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Balkan Egyptians 2021-2025 and the Action Plan for 2021. The previous government’s strategy resulted in some improvement in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and, under some circumstances, by birth in the country, through naturalization, or as otherwise specified by international treaties governing the acquisition of citizenship. Registration of birth, a responsibility of the parents, is required for a child to have the necessary documents to establish his or her citizenship. Births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions were registered automatically. The parents of Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children not born in hospitals registered their births at much lower rates than other groups, mostly due to lack of awareness of the registration process or the parents’ own lack of identification documents. It was difficult for the unregistered children of Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents to access such government services as health care, social allowances, and education. Of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian children in primary school, 10 percent were not registered.
Education: The law provides for free, compulsory elementary education for all children. Secondary education is free but not compulsory. Enrollment in secondary education starts at the ages of 14 or 15. NGOs reported that the end of elementary education represented one of the most vulnerable moments for Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children, especially girls, since without school attendance monitoring, children were left to their parents and were vulnerable to “traditional” marriages. UNICEF data indicated that during 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a socioeconomic crisis, and children became more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion and less able to acquire knowledge as schools closed and education went digital. A Rapid Social Impact Assessment by the UN, co-led by UNICEF and the UNDP, found that in April and June 2020, the country’s poorest households were increasingly unable to meet their children’s most basic needs, particularly affecting Roma and Egyptian children, children with disabilities, and refugee and migrant children. Half of the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children dropped out of primary school, and only 3 percent completed high school. UNICEF noted there was not sufficient data on children with disabilities to assess their participation in and access to schooling.
NGOs reported that, although the number of Romani children attending school increased, they continued to face limitations in education. The NGO Young Roma reported that its research showed the average score of Romani children in schools was 2.23 out of five – just above passing – which reduced their chances of continuing their education later. The enrollment rate for Roma primary school pupils slightly increased in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19, compared to the higher birth rate. There was a persistent lack of data on the overall number of Romani children who should be enrolled in the education system, especially in obligatory primary education. In the 2019-20 school year, a total of 1,803 Roma and Egyptian children were enrolled in primary schools (compared with 1,793 in 2018-19), only 142 in secondary school and there were 13 high school students. The NGO Pihren Amenica stated that Romani children were additionally disadvantaged due to the shift to online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, since not all families had access to electricity or computers to facilitate virtual learning.
Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from a year in prison for violence without a weapon to 12 years’ imprisonment for actions that result in the victim’s death; however, severe penalties were rarely imposed and short prison stays, suspended sentences, or small fines were the norm.
The Ministry of Health reported that child abuse remained a problem, with every third child subject to emotional abuse, while every fourth child was a victim of physical abuse. Many children, particularly high school students, were exposed to alcohol, drugs, and violence. The ombudsman noted that child sexual abuse victims were usually girls between ages 14 and 16. The abusers were mostly close relatives of the children, and abuse usually occurred at home. The very low number of reported cases of sexual violence against children raised concerns about identification of victims. To address the problem of child abuse, the government developed, in conjunction with UNICEF, a document called the Strategy for Exercising the Rights of the Child 2019-2023. The strategy set out a comprehensive “whole of government” approach to improving the conditions for exercising children’s rights in all areas covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.
Authorities prosecuted child abuse when they had cases with enough evidence, and the government worked to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting cases. Facilities and psychotherapy assistance for children who suffered from family violence were inadequate, and there were no marital or family counseling centers. Authorities sometimes placed juvenile victims of domestic violence in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic or in the orphanage in Bijela.
In September the Basic Court in Podgorica convicted a man and sentenced him to the maximum sentence of two year’s imprisonment for the criminal offense of prolonged illicit sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl. The man was in custody since the beginning of April, which was extended after the verdict; the time spent in custody was expected to be included in his prison sentence.
In April several thousand individuals protested in Podgorica against extremely low penalties for sexual offenses against children. The law prescribes that the perpetrator be punished by a fine or maximum two years of imprisonment for illicit sexual activity committed against a child; imprisonment for two to 10 years, if the act caused grievous body injures to the person or if an act was committed by several persons or in a particularly cruel or particularly degrading manner. If, as a result of the act, the child died, the perpetrator is punishable by imprisonment for a term between three and 15 years.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in most cases, but persons as young as 16 may marry with the consent of a court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally due to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.
Child marriage was a serious problem in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of Romani girls and one in six Romani boys between ages 15 and 19 were married. There continued to be reports of underage girls being sold into “traditional” or “arranged” marriages without their consent, including to persons in neighboring countries. These marriages generally did not meet the criteria necessary for legal, documented marriages. As such, they were difficult to track and regulate, regardless of legality.
In 2020 the government launched the “Children are Children” campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities and explain the applicable regulations and procedures for protecting children from arranged marriages. The campaign was conducted by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Police Administration in cooperation with the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives, and it focused on working with members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities in Podgorica, Niksic, Tivat, and Berane.
The custom of buying or selling virgin brides continued in the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. Brides found not to be virgins prior to marriage faced severe repercussions, including violence, from the groom’s family, their family, and the community at large.
The government implemented some measures to prevent underage marriage, including enforcing mandatory school education.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring for prostitution, and the country partially enforced the law. The age of sexual consent is 18. There is a statutory rape law. Sexual activity with a juvenile carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Paying a juvenile for sexual activity carries a prison term of three months to five years. Authorities may fine or imprison for one to 10 years any person found guilty of inducing a minor into prostitution.
Child pornography is illegal, and sentences for violators range from six months in prison for displaying child pornography to eight years for using a child in the production of pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community population was estimated to be approximately 400 to 500 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government was implementing the Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2020, but NGOs claimed it did not do so effectively. During the year a network of 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities continued to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy. The NGO Youth with Disabilities (YWD) stated that although the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare oversees the register of persons with disabilities established pursuant to the strategy, there were problems consolidating information on persons with disabilities that had been collected by different state institutions and included new data from persons who had not previously registered with any institution. Government information and communication were not provided in accessible formats.
Authorities generally enforced the requirement that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but most public facilities, including buildings and public transportation, were older and lacked access. Although election laws specifically require accessible polling places, according to NGOs, approximately 65 percent of polling stations remained inaccessible during the 2020 national parliamentary elections. In addition ballot templates for persons with visual disabilities were missing in 17 percent of polling stations. Individual abuses of the right to vote with a proxy voter were also reported. After the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the provision on legal capacity as a precondition for exercising the right to vote, all citizens deprived of legal capacity were returned to the voter list by the Ministry of Interior, at the initiative of the YWD. The inaccessibility of polling stations led several persons with disabilities to initiate court proceedings to establish discrimination had occurred and, according to the YWD, there was some improvement in the accessibility of polling stations used during local elections in Niksic and Herceg Novi during the year, following active civil advocacy.
Some renovations of existing government buildings took accessibility into account, such as the construction of a central elevator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was completed in January 2020. The renovation of parliament’s plenary hall made it more accessible, including installation of an elevator and wheelchair-compatible seating space. Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to file charges against persons or institutions seen to be violating their rights. Observers ascribed this reluctance to the adverse outcomes of previous court cases or, according to the ombudsman, to insufficient public awareness of human rights and protection mechanisms relating to disabilities. Discrimination cases that the YWD initiated against the Ministry of Finance, a health center in Podgorica, the Montenegrin Fund for Solidarity Housing Construction, and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued through the year, with three of the cases concluding in rulings in favor of persons with disabilities.
According to NGOs, the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare, which has responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, did not meet during the year. The NGO Association of Youths with Disabilities noted that the failure of this body to hold any sessions led to a lack of institutional mechanisms for persons with disabilities to engage with the government and their subsequent exclusion from decision-making processes.
According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. Associations of parents of children with disabilities were the primary providers of these services. The law permits parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to work half-time, but employers did not respect this right.
The government made efforts to enable children with disabilities to attend schools and universities, but the quality of the education they received and the facilities to accommodate them remained inadequate at all levels. There are three models of education for children with disabilities in the country: mainstream schools, segregated classes at mainstream schools, and resource centers (public educational institutions that provide children with disabilities with necessary academic and social tools, training, and support), of which there were three in the country. The laws governing education also provide for the creation of special commissions by municipalities to provide guidance in the educational process for children with disabilities. Such guidance does not apply to other children. The YWD stated that the last two models are tantamount to segregation of students with disabilities, which is considered a form of discrimination under the law. NGO monitoring of the education of children and young persons with disabilities showed that commissions often referred them to a limited number of primary and secondary schools and that no child with a disability was admitted to a gymnasium (the most prestigious type of preparatory school for students who were expected to continue in postsecondary education), which the NGO found unacceptable.
NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the schooling of children with disabilities, many of whom remained without adequate teaching assistance. Paid leave was not ensured to some parents of children with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities were often institutionalized or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities also had difficulty in obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The NGOs Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records discouraged many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals had difficulty or were unable to access HIV testing and medication, which was available only in Podgorica, and medical personnel failed to provide adequate treatment
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law forbids incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The presence of an anti-LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex) bias is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.
In the first eight months of the year, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress submitted more than 60 complaints to police regarding online discrimination, hate speech, and verbal abuse, including comments on social media, and asked authorities to press charges against the commenters. The NGO stated that the total number of charges filed in the first half of the year was somewhat lower when compared with the same period in 2020 or 2019 but noted a significant rise of hate and hate speech online targeting different communities and groups, based on their nationality, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, which corresponded to the rise of tensions and divisions in the society throughout the year.
According to NGOs, as a result of COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, many LGBTQI+ persons returned to their primary residences where they experienced an increase of hate, abuse, discrimination, and rejection by family members. Many of them searched for psychosocial and legal support. One LGBTQI+ center was operational during the second half of 2020 and throughout 2021. It was run by an NGO and relied solely on small emergency grants and funds without government support.
Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTQI+ NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community. The government also formed the National Focal Point Network composed of representatives from local municipalities to promote LGBTQI+ rights at the local level.
During the year the national team formed by the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights to monitor implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of LGBTI Persons in Montenegro 2019-2023 worked to increase the capacity of institutions involved in the protection of individuals against discrimination, particularly in the judicial system. COVID-19 prevented the team from meeting more than twice, but it coordinated and remained informed on all ongoing activities. The NGO Spectra reported that realization of most of the planned activities would be continued next year, again due to COVID-19 delays. The NGOs Juventas and Queer of Montenegro reported they cooperated with the team to help local authorities create and approve local action plans to fight homophobia and transphobia and improve the quality of life for LGBTQI+ persons. The government did not provide funds for operating the LGBTQI+ shelter in 2022, although the 2019-23 national strategy anticipated that the shelter would be fully funded for the duration of the strategy.
The NGO Spektra reported that transgender women and men in the country had been unable to access hormone therapy for the previous four years, which led to significant risks to their physical and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the ordering of hormone therapies from neighboring countries. Spektra also noted that the health system experienced a periodic shortage of testosterone supply since the beginning of the pandemic, which resulted in a direct threat to the health and well-being of transgender persons. The NGO alleged the situation violated the basic human rights provided by the country’s constitution and laws concerning access to health care and health insurance.